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Lawmakers Share Vision of Managing Lands Post-Feds

The Utah State Capitol
Lawmakers have a plan for managing lands the state's demanded from the federal government, which controls nearly two-thirds of Utah's lands.

What happens if state leaders succeed in forcing the federal government to hand over control of more than 30 million acres in Utah?

That’s the question underlying legislation by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who says his Utah Public Land Management Act would give Utahns a stronger voice in how public lands are managed.

“It’s up to the people of the state of Utah as to how to protect their public lands, what they want to do with those public lands and  the people they send up here in the future to follow that pattern,” Noel told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee Friday.

The bill requires transferred lands to have a primary purpose, such as grazing, hunting, minerals, timber, outdoor recreation or wilderness. A new bureaucracy under the Department of Natural Resources would manage the land and an 11-member board would offer guidance. Their duties would begin the day the federal government transfers title to 100,000 acres or more to the state -- assuming that move’s successful.

The Utah Farm Bureau’s Randy Parker says local control would help anxious ranchers.

“Anything we can do to ramp up the certainty for these people to make good business decisions is important,” he told the panel, “and I think state and local control of these federal lands is exactly what we need.”

There’s no estimate yet about the costs associated with the bill, which the committee passed, 9 to1, and sent on to the full Utah House of Representatives.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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